Two of Diamonds is Bad Seed Mick Harvey’s fourth proper solo album — there are a number of soundtracks out there that also bear his name. Other artists’ songs principally make up the set — particularly Australians who’ve influenced him — with a few tunes of his own placed in the mix strategically. The album opens with a killer reading of the Saints’ “Photograph” that bring out all the pathos and grief in the original, but is added to by Harvey’s use of Rosie Westbrook’s double bass and Thomas Wylder’s drumming. The bookend track is a nod to his ex-bandmate Simon Bonney, frontman of Crime & the City Solution; Harvey was their musical director after the Birthday Party split. There are also tunes here by the Triffids and the Loved Ones. What sets this recording apart from its predecessors is that Harvey is using what feels like a real band instead of either doing things himself, as he did on One Man’s Treasure, or groups of studio pals. Along with Wylder and Westbook are James Johnston on guitar and organ and Julitha Ryan on piano and backing vocals. PJ Harvey’s drummer/keyboardist Rob Ellis also appears on a cut. The originals here are gorgeous, among the finest songs Harvey’s ever written. “Blue Arrows” is a skeletal song with Harvey playing guitars and piano and Westbook’s bass filled with spirit. Two and a half minutes in length, it hovers, shimmers, and floats while leaving its bittersweet melody embedded in the heart of the listener. Then there’s “Little Star,” again under three minutes long, that emerges via a fade-in of piano and guitars playing a repetitive, nearly droning theme. Harvey’s vocal comes from the last couple of centuries somewhere, out of time and space, and glides through the lyric, another love song to the listener on the wind until the refrain, when the portrait of love’s past is considered over distance and time itself like an open palm that contains blackened rose petals — dead, gone, treasured. Two of Diamonds’ moody, brooding sweetness is the next step Harvey takes out from under Nick Cave’s long shadow and into his own musical identity, keeping the listener in reverie for the album’s entire run. Sadly beautiful, it’s one of those sleepers that deserves to be heard, whispered about, and imprinted in the heart.
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